Harmful effects of VOCs on indoor air quality

 Harmful effects of VOCs on indoor air quality

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) impacts health and well-being. According to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, poor air quality is responsible for many health issues such as respiratory problems and heart disease.

Indoor Life Quality and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) thus, today have become considerations for both the design/building industry and the general public. In response, many Green standards have been introduced for the built environment to help achieve better IAQ. Before delving into standards, let’s take a closer look at the causes and sources that impact indoor air quality.

Indoor environmental quality
The term “Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)” refers to the conditions that affect the health and well-being of people inside a building. It includes air quality, lighting, thermal conditions, ergonomics, and their effects on occupants or residents. It is achieved by improving air quality, reducing stress, and improving the quality of life for the building’s occupants and the surrounding community. Furthermore, healthy indoor environmental quality helps improve building valuation.

Who is affected by poor indoor air quality?
Everyone is! But those with pre-existing health conditions are more susceptible. Focusing on the quality of air indoors is essential because people spend up to 90% of their time indoors.

It takes extended exposure to poor quality of air indoors to feel its impact on health. Still, sometimes a single exposure can have an immediate effect, such as discomfort in the eyes, throat, and nose, as well as headaches and fatigue.

Understanding the source
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are the most common type of air pollutants. They are a part of many daily-use products and are by-products of other unavoidable actions such as lighting the stove to cook, applying, or removing nail polish etc. VOCs are nearly everywhere.

Increased VOC emissions led to unhealthy amounts of toxins in the air, creating poor air quality that negatively affects health.

Let us look at the building environment closely to understand the impact.

So how do VOCs get into our homes?
Exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) daily happens via products used in constructing the building or those used for interior fit outs, such as wood products, carpet, and flooring.
Most materials and products used in the construction and finishing of interior spaces are potential sources of VOCs. These include paints, adhesives, sealants, caulks, carpets, vinyl floor, wall coverings, composite wood products, drywall products such as concrete deck levelling compounds, furniture finishing products, and insulation materials. Furnishing materials, such as interior and furniture panels, are also VOC emitting sources. Many other products used in construction or fit-outs, such as acetone, formaldehyde, and butanol, contain VOCs, adding to indoor air pollution. New building materials and furnishings often have high levels of chemical emissions, but the emissions continue through the lifecycle of the building and the furnishings.

Some hazardous substances used that need to be minimized include:

• Formaldehyde: Present in products made of pressed wood and formaldehyde-based resins (e.g., plywood and fiberboard), used in furniture, panelling, flooring, etc.
• Acetaldehyde: Used in the production of polyester resins and basic dyes; It is present in laminates, cork, foam mattresses, linoleum, and other products.
• Phenol: Present in different materials, such as wall coverings and vinyl flooring.
• BTEX substances: BTEX includes benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which are there in numerous petroleum products.
• Glycol ethers: A component of various solvents, coatings, and cleaning products.
• Methylene chloride, is often found in adhesives.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality?
Appropriate building design, mechanical system, control strategies, and changing occupant behavior can improve indoor air quality, health, comfort, performance, and productivity of building occupants.

How Green Buildings Provide Better Indoor Air Quality?

Building certification standards, LEED, BREEAM, WELL and GRIHA tell you how health and environment-friendly a building is. They have point allocation for indoor air quality and mandate using low-VOC, carbon neutral/ negative sustainable building materials.

Green Building standards to improve the quality of air are:
• Use of low-emission paints, coatings, and adhesives.
• Creation of designated smoking areas in the building.
• Design of mechanical ventilation systems for fresh air circulation in line with the ASHRAE air quality standards.
• Effective maintenance and management of the building’s heating and cooling systems to prevent the accumulation of dust and pollutants during construction.
• Adopt a Green Cleaning Program
• Install CO2 monitors
• Incorporate mixed mode ventilation

LEED strongly emphasizes energy efficiency, while WELL mainly focuses on providing healthy conditions for occupants. However, both rating systems give high importance to indoor air quality.

Read More Considerations in Selecting Sustainable Building Materials and Supporting a Healthier Indoor Environment

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